Day 19: Hill City to Rapid City - The Empty Middle 2015 - CycleBlaze

October 11, 2015

Day 19: Hill City to Rapid City

My original plan for today was to pedal northeast on a section of the Mickelson Trail that has many trestles and tunnels. But that route would be 50+ miles with much climbing. I'm so tired from yesterday that I need an easy day.

Fortunately it's easy to go 30 miles from Hill City (5159 feet elevation) to Rapid City (3202 feet elevation). I will follow Spring Creek most of the way, from the pine forested Black Hills to the grassy Missouri Plateau.

Hill City, South Dakota.
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It was nice to look around Hill City on a warm sunny morning. It was nearly dark when I arrived yesterday. The town is almost entirely dependent on tourism. It seems to be doing well.

I finally got on the road at 10:10. Today will be short and easy. The temperature was already up to 70F (21C) at 10 AM. Amazing for October 11 high in the Black Hills.

Downtown Hill City.
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Downtown Hill City. The Inn has a big lighted Star of David.
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Railroad museum in Hill City.
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Today is forecast to have a high of 80F with a very strong westerly wind. Gusts up to 50 mph (80 km/h). Fortunately it's a tailwind most of the time.

Just north of Hill City was the only ruined shoulder of the tour. Wind blown dust cloud at the lumber mill ahead.
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Today's route starts with 7 miles on US 385 north. Finally the grooved concrete lanes are gone, so it's quieter. Traffic is heavy at first, but after 4 miles most traffic turned right onto US 16 which makes a beeline to Rapid City. I continued north another 3 miles on US 385. The shoulder becomes narrower alongside Sheridan lake.

US 385 and Sheridan Lake.
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The world became much quieter after turning right onto Sheridan Lake road. First a mile along the north shore. Then several miles along Spring Creek in a scenic canyon with many rural homes. Maybe one car per minute. No trucks.

Spring Creek below Sheridan Lake.
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Eventually Sheridan Lake road leaves the canyon and re-enters Black Hills National Forest. The trend is downhill but there are frequent steep climbs. The forest gets gradually thinner. The trees get smaller. Eventually the pines fade into golden grass.

Sheridan Lake road is easy and pleasant with a downhill trend and a strong tailwind. It wouldn't be very pleasant to go the opposite direction today! I followed Sheridan Lake road all the way into Rapid City.

Descending along Spring Creek towards Rapid City.
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At the beginning of the tour I completely avoided the city of Amarillo. But at the end of the tour I can't avoid Rapid City. Sheridan Lake road suddenly becomes a 6-lane concrete boulevard with upscale residential development. Also a big country club. Not many shopping centers. Traffic was surprisingly heavy for a Sunday but the miles went by quickly because it was mostly downhill. Good thing because I'm very tired today.

Entering the suburban sprawl of Rapid City.
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At the bottom of the descent I turned right onto a bike trail alongside Rapid Creek. The trail goes to downtown and beyond. And now I go east with an extremely strong tailwind. Flat and easy. Temperature was 80F (27C), but the howling wind made it seem colder. At first the trail crosses under roads, so there is no need to stop for cross traffic. Later the trail has a couple of grade level road crossings.

Rapid Creek in a park in Rapid City.
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The park is fairly big all the way to downtown. There are many interpretive signs about the 1970 flood. Much of today's park was houses and businesses then. Afterwards the most flood-prone areas were converted to a park. One major cause of the flood was that the old multi-column bridges clogged up with trees and houses, turning the bridges into dams. The new bridges have long spans that are more resistant to clogging with flood debris.

I pedaled several miles in parks along Rapid Creek.
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The extreme wind caused debris to fall from the trees. Sand, leaves, and pine needles flying around, hitting me on the back. It would be miserable to go the opposite direction and have all that debris in my face.

Much of the park has solar-charged battery-powered lighting.
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In the downtown area the trail passes near a fancy new arena with many fountains and pools. Across the river is the laid-back downtown. No rush to build tall buildings lately.

Downtown Rapid City.
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It was kind of jarring to see downtown Rapid City because I never saw any other city of this size during the tour. Until now, the biggest town on my route had 13,000 people. The City of Rapid City is 73,000 people and the metro area is 141,000 people. Unlike most places on this tour, this region has a growing population.

Downtown Rapid City.
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Rapid City is a very "Indian" town. The big city for the Sioux nation. It's apparent that the west side of Rapid City is wealthier and whiter, and the east side of Rapid City is poorer and more Indian.

Fascinating alley in downtown Rapid City.
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2 miles east of downtown I turned away from the trail onto city streets. 1 mile north, to North street, a seedy industrial corridor with many budget motels. I got a $60 room at Time Inn. Basic room with no fridge or microwave. I arrived at 2 PM but had no trouble getting a room before check-in time.

There wasn't much to do for the rest of the day. I walked to a laundromat so I can start the long drive home with clean clothes.

A mile east on North Street is the Enterprise Car Rental office where I will get a car in the morning.

Today's easy ride allowed me to recover from yesterday's difficult ride and rest a bit for tomorrow's hike. The scenery wasn't spectacular but there is a kind of excitement to pedal into a city after being in rural areas for 3 weeks. The bike tour is finished now but it will take me 4 days to get home.

Distance: 30.9 mi. (49.4 km)
Climbing: 1144 ft. (347 m)
Average Speed: 12.1 mph (19.4 km/h)
Walked 3 mi. (4.8 km) in Rapid City

Today's ride: 31 miles (50 km)
Total: 979 miles (1,576 km)

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